The new album of Sarah Watts, contrabass clarinet virtuoso
Fervent promoter of bass and double bass clarinets, Sarah Watts has been contributing for many years to the enrichment of a repertoire that is still too limited. Last April, the artist released an album for contrabass clarinet and piano: Into the Depths.
We went to ask a few questions to this extraordinary clarinetist who nicknames her favourite instrument "The Beast"...
How did the idea for this album come about?
« From the moment I got my contrabass clarinet, composers wanted to write for me and it was clear that the music that was being written had a very unique and different character to much of other repertoire already written for the instrument.
I've always loved the composer Franco Donatoni and his solo contrabass clarinet piece Ombra was the piece that inspired me to get my Selmer Contrabass Clarinet and to start specialising. Donatoni knows how to write for the contrabass clarinet and everything he does works. I used this work to demonstrate to all the other composers featured on the CD good examples of contrabass clarinet writing. It also demonstrates that the contrabass clarinet can be a lyrical instrument and this is one thing that I am keen to promote and exploit.
Into The Depths was the first work that I commissioned, this is a piece by Elizabeth Kelly (lecturer at Nottingham University). There is very little repertoire for contrabass clarinet and piano and also a very limited amount by female composers. We were awarded a 'Women Make Music' award by the UK funding body PRSF for this piece and also towards the recording and making of CD. »
How was the recording process?
« The recording process was exhausting, but I think a chance for me to really learn all the pieces and my instrument better!
Weighed Down by Light, by Tom Williams was the first to be recorded at Coventry University in the summer of 2018. We had to re-record the whole piece after a catastrophic technology gremlin corrupted the main file of the first recording. I think the second take was so much better - so everything happens for a reason!
The rest of the CD was recorded at Nottingham University, with Simon Paterson producing all in the new recording studio. Luckily all went to plan and was incredibly grateful for the help of Simon and also Miroslav Spasov and Sohrab Uduman who all helped with editing. »
Can you tell us about your relationship with your instrument?
« I LOVE my beast!
When I first collected it from Henri Selmer Paris, I couldn't play an octave scale without making the most awful high pitched screeching squeaks! I spent three months playing scales, Bach cello suites and Donatoni's Ombra. As I got to know the instrument I was amazed by how it grew with me and developed such a beautiful and lyrical sound.
The contrabass clarinet is normally either heard in wind orchestra, or fairly hardcore contemporary music. However, it has the ability to be able to do anything! The challenge of starting from scratch and asking composers to write for me has been really inspiring. I hope that the repertoire I'm premiering is giving the instrument a chance to show its many other sides.
I've had two other main angles of commissioning and have been using themes to inspire composers.
Feed The Beast was a call for scores about animals in danger. This resulted in around 40 new works and a selection are currently being developed into a programme for live performance with visuals and narration. We are planning to stream this for Sheffield University's Festival of The Mind in September 2020. Ten Wee Drams was a commissioning project to celebrate me running bass clarinet courses on the Scottish Isle of Raasay and Ten composers were commissioned to write a short piece for bass clarinet or contrabass clarinet that took inspiration on the culture, heritage and landscape of Raasay. 6 out of 10 of the pieces were for contrabass clarinet. »
You can buy the CD and get a 20% discount on your order with the code BEAST.
Specializing in bass and contrabass clarinets, Sarah Watts has gained an international reputation as an artist, teacher and researcher. She has performed as a soloist in Europe, Asia and America, and has given numerous courses and workshops around the world. Learn more about Sarah Watts